Contemplative Prayer

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Contemplative Prayer Class

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This morning, first of all, about next time, I'm not sure about next time, because this
thing, this Four Winds thing is going on next week, and I'm involved with it, I don't know
it's happening.
They're having their panel things right in the morning at this time, so I don't know
how that's going to work out.
We might have to skip the class next week, postpone it till the week after, or we might
have to do it earlier in the morning on one of these days, so I'll just have to let you
know about that.
But in any case, for next time, please read Section 5 of Merton's Inner Experience.
That's the one on pure contemplation, on mystical contemplation, which we've already talked about
a good deal already.
But what he's doing in these two sections, Section 4 and Section 5, is to divide contemplative
experience into two great categories, and then in Section 4 he treats the first category,
which is, call it active contemplation, and in Section 5 he treats the other one, which
is strictly mystical contemplation, or pure contemplation, or pure unitive experience,
or mystical theology, or theology, there are a dozen names for it.
And so today we're going to be talking about Section 4, which is active contemplation,
as he talks...
It isn't quite clear from the titles here, but that's...
This is about different kinds of contemplation, according to the title, but really, first
of all it's about the division into these two kinds, and then it's about the first kind.
But before we get into this, I want to say something about that article of Gabriel Winkler,
which I gave you as an incomplete xerox of last time.
It's incomplete because I didn't want you to...
It's a very complex and heavy article, a long article, and I didn't want you to get bogged
down in the first part, because what we're interested in is really in the second part,
what I was trying to point out.
So let me go back to that, because we only touched on it too briefly last time, and just
point out a few things.
What you've got...
Can you find that Gabriel Winkler article, The Origins and Idiosyncrasies of the Earliest
Form of Asceticism?
It's a kind of a breakthrough article, in pointing out what's peculiar about Syriac
Now, she's not the first one to do it, but she's one of the first ones to do it in the
States, because the people who have been writing about this before have been in England, as
far as I know, in the English language anyway.
That's Murray and Brock, Sebastian Brock, and there's Robert Murray, who are the two
great translators and exponents of the Syriac tradition in English, and it's a marvelous
There's nothing quite like it.
Sooner or later, I think, every monastic person should become acquainted with that tradition,
because it's before monasticism got philosophized, in other words, before the Greek structures
and dualisms got into...
I said monasticism, I mean Christianity, really.
Before those Greek philosophical things got into Christianity and split it up.
So you don't have the dualism of body and soul in the same way that you'll have it later
You don't have this extreme verticality, and what you've got is a theology which is poetry
and even music.
In other words, they wrote a lot of their theology as hymns.
This is still true in St. Ephraim.
And it's in the language which is the direct descendant of the New Testament language,
It's in Syriac.
Syriac is the child of Aramaic.
So they've still got that same blood, that same fluid flowing in them, the same culture,
And so, excuse me, it's almost completely biblical, which may seem in some way narrow
to you.
It's got a certain narrowness about it, but at the same time it's got a terrific depth
and fullness.
So it's something that we have to be acquainted with, preceding the Greco-Roman container.
Preceding our whole Western cultural thing, in a way.
And it's especially important for monasticism because it's got this thing, this unitive
thing at its core, which is concerned with baptism.
Well, let's take a look at her article.
You've got the first couple of pages, pages 9 to 11, and then you've got the end of it.
Now, in the beginning, she tells you what she's setting out to do, which is quite impressive,
The first part of the article, Asceticism as a Bestowal of Life, notice she's talking
about Luke's Gospel, the radically ascetic slant of Luke's Gospel.
Now, Scott Sinclair was talking to you about monasticism in Luke and Acts, you know, monasticism
in quotation marks.
But he was able to find it in Luke and Acts particularly because it has this ascetical
And she's talking about the Syriac asceticism as being, especially in the line of Luke's
Gospel, and later she'll say John, too.
And as distinguished from Paul, Syriac asceticism, the number three there, with its marked biblical
orientation, is very different from its Western counterpart.
And it's connected with adult baptism.
Okay, now that's what we've been talking about.
Then she points out several ways of approaching this.
She says, in this article, the pneumatic character of Syrian asceticism will be stressed, that
is, the relation to the Spirit, the Holy Spirit.
Then she talks about what she's going to do in the second part of the article, Asceticism
as Life in the Spirit of Christ, and that's what we're concerned with, because it brings
in this word, ahidia, or ikidia, which means one.
Now, when we're talking about the New Testament, contemplation of the New Testament, about
the spreading, sort of, of words, I haven't got a better word, I'm sure one will turn
But words tend to get, what would you say, squashed, in a certain sense, in that their
meaning spreads out so that it covers everything.
Certain words in the tradition do that, and the word one, in Syriac, is especially suited
to that kind of thing called quantum explosion, or something.
So what it does, it opens itself up, it spreads itself out, so it includes just about everything.
And it includes the core of Christianity in a unitive way, which is hardly found at
all outside of the Syriac tradition.
That's an extreme statement, but it's pretty hard to find anything that contains, what
would you call it, the unitive core of Christianity, the way this Syriac tradition does.
And that's expressed particularly in this word, ihidia, or ikidia.
So I recommend it to your attention.
Let's go now to page 27, in that same xerox.
She's got a lot of important stuff in that paragraph on the bottom of 27.
First of all, a connection of asceticism and baptism.
When people got baptized in this tradition, they had some kind of... the culture somehow
lent them to feel that they had to take up some kind of ascetical life.
So some people felt that baptism sort of committed you to a life of celibacy, if you can imagine
In other words, baptism almost pushed you in the direction... pushed you into a monastery,
to put it crudely.
And the original form of... the original shape of baptism was what she calls a birth ritual,
or genesis mysticism.
This sounds very Johannine and goes very deep into the mystical meaning of the New Testament.
If you want to find the mystical meaning of the New Testament, read it in terms of birth
and of creation.
The birth and the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve.
And the first day of creation, the creation of light.
Thus the original form of baptism was predominantly oriented toward pneumatology, one of those
unfortunate long words, which simply means theology of the spirit.
And the story of creation for the first four centuries, having nothing in common with the
Christocentric death mysticism of Paul's letter to the Romans.
Now, here a red light goes on, or an alarm bell sounds, because she's pointing something
out here which is important, that the death thing and the cross has sometimes been, what
would you say, accented in Christianity to the extent that this positivity gets drowned
out or shadowed or buried.
And that's what Matthew Fox is trying to get out from under with his creation-centered
spirituality and theology.
It's a thrust away from the over-accented shadow of the cross, which is like a total
So that the life side, the creation side, and this unitive and mystical side, too, of Christianity
tends to get buried under the shadow of the cross.
So they're trying to get this out, and sometimes they do it by pushing away the other side
entirely, pushing the cross right out of sight.
See, Matthew Fox is in danger of doing that, rejecting the whole other side of Christianity,
writing off Saint Augustine, even write off Saint Paul, and so on.
So she's in a little danger of doing that here.
And I suspect that also there's something of a feminist issue underneath this.
That is that the life mysticism of Luke and of John would be connected more with the feminine
and the Pauline with the masculine, but that's only a suspicion.
So it's just a kind of warning, as we proceed, that there are discernments to be made in
meeting what she has to say.
She's going to bring in Paul's Galatians later on.
That's one of her prime New Testament texts, is from Galatians.
So she's not rejecting Paul entirely.
Their baptismal theology was based on Jesus' own pneumatic birth in the River Jordan, his
And the Johannite pneumatic theology of being born of water in the Spirit.
According to the Syrians, Jesus emerged from the Jordan as the Spirit-filled new Adam
who bestows new life to the mortally wounded Adam through his life-forgetting Spirit.
And that's absolutely precious.
But if you've only got that, and if you leave out the end of Jesus' life at the cross,
the death and resurrection, what have you got?
You haven't got Christianity.
Okay, so this is extremely important, but incomplete at the same time.
So we have to be a little bit on our guard.
There's a polarization in her point of view.
This business about Adam is extremely important because Adam...
And remember, where do you find that Adam-Christ relationship?
It's in Paul.
It's in Paul's letter to the Romans, right?
That's where we get it from.
And we get it there, of course, in terms also of original sin and that whole axis,
which she's somewhat pushing aside.
What I want to focus on is this term, ehidia or echidia.
She begins to talk about the Word on page 28 at the bottom.
And notice how the Word is elastic, how it seems to expand.
In the past, she says it was incorrectly translated as monk, hermit, and solitary.
Well, it's incorrect insofar as it's a partial translation,
but sometimes apparently it does mean that.
But it doesn't mean only that.
Only recently have scholars become more cautious by rendering ehidia as single one.
Now, this thing begins to really light up at that point.
You see what's happening there?
That Jesus is the one Word of God.
He's the one Son of God.
He's the one fullness of God expressed in a single human being,
who then somehow, through baptism, becomes identified with yourself.
In other words, you become that, and then that predicates all these other things.
And for some people, it predicated being a single one in terms of celibacy, okay?
And being single-minded, having a single goal.
That whole deal, which is the core of monasticism, you see,
is connected with baptism and connected directly with the theological center of the New Testament.
That is, Jesus as the one, the one who contains the unitive fullness of God,
the fullness of life.
This whole thing, the connection is completely visible there, you see?
And it flows right into the monastic life.
It's practically the deepest basis for the monastic life, I think, that you can find.
And in a contemplative line, not simply in the line of renunciation,
because you can also come from the other angle,
that monasticism is the anticipation of death and the acceptance of the cross
in order to experience the resurrection, not to enter into the life of the risen.
There are different points of view you can take.
So, it's that word which is the center of what I'm trying to get across here,
which she has to offer here.
And then she's got a bunch of quotes from Aphraha and from Ephraim
and from the Gospel of the Acts of Thomas.
And later on, the Gospel of Thomas.
And there's a kind of crescendo here until she winds up on pages 33 to 37.
And you see that what's happening here is that in baptism,
in monasticism, the original unity of humanity is being re-established.
And it happens on one side through the abolition of the distinctions
between male and female, between Greek and Gentile, or Jew and Gentile,
and between slave and free and so on.
In other words, all of the different categories of humanity become,
what would you say, absorbed, relativized, eclipsed in this unity which is given.
In the new Adam, in Christ, through baptism.
And on the other side, that's the social perspective,
which is in Galatians 3, 26, 27, 28.
Because there's no longer Greek or Jew, remember, male or female,
slave or free, you're all one in Christ Jesus.
That's an enormously important text because not only does it express the unity,
but expresses the three basic lines of division.
The sexual, the gender thing, the vertical thing,
strata in society are economic, slave, free, rich, poor.
And then the racial thing, the ethnic thing, or the Jew-Gentile thing, in other words.
If you look at those three lines, it's hard to find another one to pull with us
to express the cracks along which the whole of humanity is split
and which are reconciled, brought back together in Jesus.
And basically in baptism.
So, this unity of Adam that is being restored,
in your entering into the one, the only one, the only child of God, who is Jesus,
in your baptism, and remember the words that were spoken at the baptism of Jesus,
you are my only begotten son or you're my beloved son, right?
Which is taken as my only son.
I forget the exact words in the Greek.
So it's all centered in baptism.
Now, she's sidestepping the issue of cross and resurrection,
but for early Christians to say baptism was to say cross and resurrection.
I mean, it was just taken for granted.
I haven't studied this in the Syriac tradition to verify it and to bring it out.
I'm sure that's there.
So it would be wrong to separate this from, to separate it from the paschal mystery,
because then you end up with a handful of nothing.
And then the word Ahidia is the origin,
so it is believed, of the word monokos, of the word monk, okay?
Which means what?
Which means one, which means solitary or something like that.
But you see how that deepens and broadens as you take it back into this baptismal context.
But in the Syriac tradition, with its peculiar vocabulary,
that word Ahidia or Akkad or Had is connected with the Hebrew, of course, Akkad,
which means one.
Somebody pointed out it's also connected with the Sanskrit word.
I think it's ikam, which has a similar meaning.
Connected, I mean, it's connected through the ear, and possibly also somehow, historically.
Any questions about that before we go on?
I've been unfair to it and jumping through it,
but I just urge you to read it with some attention, because it's worth it.
And if anybody wants the whole paper, the book is over there,
two copies of it in the library somewhere.
One's on the shelf, that Skudlarek book.
If you want to make a copy of the whole thing.
And then from there, one goes to Murray and to Brock
and to their translations from the Syriac,
a lot of which have appeared in that Sobornost and the other journal,
Eastern Churches Quarterly, which was merged with Sobornost some years ago.
The two used to be independent.
Now they're just one.
Then there are books by Murray and Brock too,
especially a fairly recent one by Brock called The Luminous Eye,
which is about St. Ephraim.
Is Robert Murray a Jesuit?
Yes, yeah.
I forget whether he's Cambridge or where.
I don't know whether he's Cambridge or Oxford, but he's over in England.
I think he is teaching in his own college.
That's it, okay.
Okay, now to get back to our main line.
You remember, to review a little bit,
we were looking at the contemplative unitive experience in early Christianity,
that is in the New Testament.
First of all, with relationship to the Word, that is the New Testament writings.
Then with relationship to baptism.
And we can scoop a few principles out of that.
And by now these will be familiar to you.
Principle one, at the core of the Word is this non-dual reality,
the unitive, as I call it,
the Holy Spirit or Sophia or the divine self-communication or God,
whatever you want to say,
which is communicated to us and is contained within the shell of the Word,
even within the shell of the New Testament.
Secondly, baptism is the initiatory experience of this unitive fullness,
the basic non-dual experience in Christianity,
and therefore the basic contemplative experience.
And then thirdly, the movement from baptism to Eucharist,
which is the other end, the other terminus,
the final point of this unitive journey.
And we talked about the red shift between baptism and Eucharist.
There's a gradual transformation of life in this unitive reality,
which we have called the red shift,
from birth to death, from gift to giving, from baptismal to Eucharistic,
which has multiple expressions in the New Testament.
You move from the illumination to another kind of unitive experience
in which you are transformed, and you're transformed actually by dying.
Remember where Paul says,
as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup,
you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.
The Eucharist is food, but it's death at the same time.
It's a very mysterious thing.
Just as baptism at the same time is death and life.
Okay, now, we want to read this section four of Merton,
and then make a few additions to it.
Kinds and stages of contemplation, that's what he's about.
And he simplified the thing a great deal.
If you look around in the literature,
the Christian literature, Christian tradition,
you can find ladders and ladders and scales and scales
and all kinds of structures of different stages.
There's a kind of mania you go through for stages and ladders and schemes
at a certain point, where you want to know where you are,
and you want a map of the journey.
And so there have been hundreds of them evolved.
There have been a lot of three-fold schemes,
and there have been seven-fold schemes,
and twelve-fold schemes, and ten-fold schemes, and so on.
Merton has simplified it.
And he just talks about two kinds of contemplation,
and he's very wise in doing that, I think.
But now, he makes the division here, the distinction between the two.
And then, as I said, this whole section four is about the first kind, basically.
And then section five is about the second kind.
So, on page 44 in your Xerox copy, he talks about the two kinds.
Now, you're going to find a lot of shift in vocabulary.
You can find half a dozen different synonyms,
different terms for each of these two kinds of contemplation.
So you need to feel at home in moving around in this terminology,
so you have a fairly sure idea of what you're talking about.
And beneath this surplus of terms,
you're really talking about two things which are fairly clear.
Secondly, especially the second one is clear,
that is the pure contemplation.
Even if you can find, like in the Carmelite tradition,
a number of different phases of that pure contemplation,
yet basically somehow it's all the same thing.
Strictly speaking, contemplation is an immediate,
and in some sense passive, intuition of the inmost reality
of our spiritual self and God present within us.
But there's also an active and immediate form of contemplation
in which this perception is attained, in some measure, by our own gifts.
Now, notice that two things are being...
Two divisions, two distinctions are being made at the same time.
One is between passive and active,
the other is between immediate and immediate.
You notice that?
That's not the same thing, but the two are connected.
The passive contemplation, or later it will be called
infused contemplation, or mystical contemplation,
or strictly supernatural contemplation,
you could call it unitive, pure unitive experience,
is something which is, as it were, an experience of God,
in God and through God.
You remember that saying of Eckhart, for instance,
that the eye with which you see God
is the eye with which God sees himself, or something like that.
In other words, Eckhart is special on this,
that the only way that you really know God
is in God's knowledge of God.
Now, you can think of that as in the word, if you wish,
but at this point we should get beyond
any dualistic vocabulary, really, and just talk about one thing.
It's like the sound of one hand clapping in the Zen tradition.
So, this is something which is...
Remember where Eckhart says,
the one who is, as you say,
you've got to be so poor that you don't even have a place for God,
because he brings his own place with him when he comes.
If you're poor, you have poverty,
but you still have a place for God to dwell,
you're not poor enough.
You don't have a place for God.
You've got to have nothing,
then God brings his own place with him.
That's typical Eckhart vocabulary,
and you can find probably several different expressions
parallel to that, but you get the idea.
Now, that's what this mystical contemplation is,
this pure contemplation.
It's immediate.
The only medium is God,
and it's passive, because we simply can't do it.
We can't make a place for this, you see.
You can't polish the mirror until you see this in it,
because there isn't any mirror.
So, you move across that threshold into non-duality,
where all the words become absurdities and paradoxes.
We're very familiar with this from the East nowadays.
The other kind is active and mediated at the same time.
Now, active means you can do something about it.
In some way, you can, shall we say, induce it or learn it,
or there's a progression, too.
In other words, this is something you can grow in.
And also, it can be something creative.
We need to say something about that.
Usually, they don't say anything about that.
Usually, they just talk about it in terms of ascetical activity,
and, let's say, contemplative activity of meditation and so on, okay?
That is inducing and sort of promoting and favoring
and growing this kind of contemplation.
But there's also a creative element, which is very important.
And Martin begins to get into this.
It was very important for him.
And then he gives a good deal of attention to what is this active contemplation.
And these pages are very good.
Pages 45 and 46 are very much worth reading intensely,
because it brings it right into your own experience
and not just into your directly...
What would you call it?
Directly prayer experience,
but into a broader area of experience of life.
Let's see what I mean by this.
He starts talking about active contemplation there,
up on the top of 45.
290 in the original page numbers.
He talks about the will of God,
and then the symbolic and ritual enactment of these sacred mysteries.
And then he talks about the attitude...
What would you call it?
The politics of the contemplative mind.
It's not ultra-conservative,
but it's not easily swept away by apparent change either.
In other words, it's not attached either to the static
or to the thrill of movement.
It's not attached either to the unchanging or to the changing,
but somehow is able freely to move between the two.
Martin's an interesting example himself, I guess.
We could talk more about that.
The fact is that to find a real conservatism,
you have to get beyond conservatism
and find out what's really at the origin.
You really have to go back to the beginning
and find out what that is.
And then sort of push aside the conservatism
that goes back to the 19th century, the 18th century,
the 13th century, and the 7th century.
You've got to go back to the real beginning.
And then you find you're in a radical position.
If you get back to the New Testament,
if you're conservative enough, really,
to get back inside the New Testament,
you become a radical.
Merton himself, of course, had to, what would you say,
move back and forth, in a sense,
between a more withdrawn pull
and between supporting, encouraging.
And he couldn't actively engage in a lot of these movements,
but he certainly was lighting fires underneath them.
In the 60s.
So we've got to look at his life, his performances,
and his response to history,
as well as what he says in theory here.
Okay, down at the bottom of 45.
In active contemplation,
a person becomes able to live within himself.
He learns to be at home with his own thoughts.
Now, this should have an intense resonance
in your own life, this kind of thing, okay?
This is what we're about.
Now, it's been a great, what would you call it,
disservice for the earlier tradition
to forget all about this,
or pretend that all of your energy
had to be put into prayer directly,
or something like that,
or as if you were trying to abstract yourself
out of your practical life.
Although there were other ways of talking about this,
but Merton is very good,
because he's had to recover this bit by bit.
He becomes, to a greater and greater degree,
independent of exterior supports.
It doesn't mean he rejects everything external.
His mind is pacified,
not by passive dependence on things outside himself,
but by its own constructive activity, okay?
Now, that's the core of it,
and I think in Merton's own life as well.
That is to say, he derives inner satisfaction
from spiritual creativeness.
Notice how the word creativity,
creativeness, is crept in here.
And notice how two things are coming together here.
One is the spontaneity of something
that lights up inside you
as you experience something, okay?
And the other is creativity.
And the two are almost, what would you say,
exchangeable at this point.
In other words, the experience within yourself
and the creativity are inseparable in some way.
It's almost like in the experience
is virtual, potential, hidden, the creativity.
Something like that.
So, in any case, the two are happening at the same time.
Instead of only,
and this is talked about as a mediate kind of contemplation,
as mediate, mediated.
It's mediated by things, and mediated by understanding,
and mediated by symbols, and by nature,
and by books, and all kinds of things,
and by the scriptures themselves.
But at the same time, it's mediated and it's immediate.
Because it's not mediated by what somebody else thinks anymore, okay?
So, it's mediated in a sense,
but it's also direct and immediate.
Mediated in the sense that it's coming through
particular understandings,
concepts, symbols, images, ideas,
emotions, feelings, all kinds of things.
Whether it be the liturgy, or what you're reading,
you're reading of the scripture, and so on.
It's immediate in the sense that this is happening in you
instead of you're listening to somebody else telling you about it,
and then taking it on faith,
which is a very good thing to do,
but it's only the preparation.
What's really supposed to happen is it turns on inside yourself, okay?
That's very important.
And it's very important in a Catholic church particularly,
because we've got this thing about everything comes from the top, you know.
So many people are expecting Father to give them everything.
They expect the scriptures to be interpreted for you,
they expect authority to tell you this and tell you that.
And that's good.
It's good to be ready, and submissive, and obedient,
and open in that sense, and committed, you know, and faithful.
On the other hand, it's got to happen inside you.
It's got to be your own ballgame sooner or later.
It's got to be your life.
It can't be at second hand.
And so much of the Catholic ground has been sterilized
by that over-vertical structure
in which everything has to come from authority.
Everything has to come from the priest.
He derives inner satisfaction from spiritual creativeness,
thinking his own thoughts, reaching his own conclusions,
looking at his own life, and directing in accordance with his own inner truth.
And that's the hardest thing, I suppose.
Discovered in meditation and under the eyes of God.
Derives strength not from what he gets out of things and of life,
out of things and people, but from giving himself to life and to others.
That's something else, okay?
Now he's turned from a receiving to a giving.
That's another little movement that he snuck in there.
He discovers the secret of life and the creative energy of love.
Now, it's interesting that he brings those two things together.
It would be very interesting to do an exegesis of this paragraph,
and you could, you know, write a book on it almost.
How he goes from experience to creativity, and then creativity to love.
Because if you take creativity down to its theological core,
you know, creativity can be a little bit like spring flowers.
It can be like producing nice things, you know,
or enjoying the movement of one's own psyche,
and being delighted with one's own, I don't know,
one's own talent and so on, and giftedness.
But what's it got to do really with Christianity,
with the core, the theological core of Christianity,
with the New Testament, when you get right down to it?
Christianity is a new creation, but how does that new creation happen?
It happens through faith and through love, does it not?
And love is what creativity seems to become
when you take it down to its root, when you take it down to its Christian root.
So it's a kind of love which creates that which it loves,
which creates its object.
If you put it in an interpersonal sense,
then it's the kind of love which doesn't ask anything, but brings being.
It doesn't worship something else or somebody else,
worship being out there in some way, but somehow confers being.
Maybe it believes being beneath the surface and brings it into life,
a kind of midwife operation.
I don't think the statement is complete,
because there's a matter of finding being there too,
and loving the being that's there.
So, creativity and love.
Not in a sentimental or sensual indulgence,
but as a profound and self-oblative expression of freedom.
Nourished by meditation and reading, and by liturgy.
But before reading, meditation and worship turn into contemplation,
they must merge into a unified and intuitive vision of reality.
We can be in a big hurry to arrive at contemplation, I think,
and want to overleap all of the rest of this, but we'd better not,
because the rest of this is our humanity, in a sense.
It's the humanity that has to be built in Christ
before the deeper or higher or more complete kind of contemplation
can be achieved, or at least before we can stay there,
before it can be a very persistent element in our lives.
A unified and intuitive vision of reality.
Maybe he's asking too much.
I don't know if everybody's going to arrive at that,
but it certainly is something to work on,
and especially for monastic people,
and especially if they want to help anybody else.
Remember, he started with the issue of the unification of the human person
right at the beginning of this whole thing, the inner experience.
That's what it's about.
That's connected with contemplation.
Contemplation is sort of one side of it.
So now he's coming back to that in terms of a vision,
in terms of, would you call it a theology?
It may be much simpler than a theology.
A unified and intuitive vision of reality.
If you think about contemporary people...
I think of Merton himself as having that kind of vision.
I think also of B. Griffiths, very much, of having that kind of vision,
especially representing this active kind of contemplation
that he's talking about, which would have been spoken of earlier in Christianity
as Gnosis, G-N-O-S-I-S.
Louis Bouyer writes about that a lot.
It's a knowledge somehow of the divine as passing through other things,
as transfiguring other things, as present in other things.
Best of all in people, if you can see that.
But also in nature, in what you read, in all kinds of...
But the world as transfigured and as moving,
as being changed in this divine light and fire.
I was reading, once again, something in B. Griffiths'
New Vision of Reality, and it's totally that kind of thing.
I mean, that's the vision that characterizes him,
is that vision of things, of the universe, as in this divine light.
And not only statically in the divine light.
In some of the tradition, the early patristic tradition,
it tended to be static, seeing the logo of things.
But actually as being transformed in this divine fire, in some way,
as a new creation coming into being.
As history is more accelerated in our time, I think it's easier to see that.
Whereas, I think, in early Christianity,
people were more inclined to say, What's happened?
Now it's all here.
Nothing remains but the second coming of Christ.
So, reading becomes contemplative when, instead of reasoning,
we abandon the sequence of the author's thoughts
in order not only to follow our own thoughts,
but simply to rise above thought and penetrate into the mystery of truth,
which is experienced intuitively as present and actual.
So that's the movement from Lectio to Meditatio to Contemplatio, okay?
Leaving out Oratio, which is something else.
It's a bit of a sidetrack here, because he's on the track of thought.
The contemplative intuition of reality is a perception of value.
So it's not the same as a purely aesthetic or purely scientific,
what would you say, intuition.
Although I have to be careful, especially with the aesthetic,
because the aesthetic turns into a contemplation of value as well.
Any questions or issues about that before we pass on?
There's a very important section, I think.
He talks about a non-religious and aesthetic contemplation later on,
but the dividing line here is very fluid and vague, I think.
So we have to be very careful about excluding something as merely aesthetic.
It all depends on the listener.
If you're talking about music, all music is sacred, practically speaking.
Well, I'd make an exception of certain kinds,
but all music is sacred in a sense, all art is sacred,
all poetry is worship, in a sense.
Except where the element of perversity becomes absolutely toxic.
Isn't that really in keeping with what you just said, if I understand correctly,
a little bit earlier, that our humanity has to be brought into completion
when we're moving toward that border for deep contemplation,
or we can pass the form of contemplation.
That's right.
So that we see it all happening not only in our humanity
and in our creation.
That's right, that's right.
And somehow it has to work itself through our bodies and through our psyche,
and so that everything, the whole ground is being changed,
and not just this sort of central nucleus.
So much of Western tradition has been over-focused,
and I think here, especially the Carmelite tradition,
the over-focus on pure contemplation,
as if you're in a hurry to get past everything else and get right there,
but people can turn into zombies that way.
Because what they end up with is an abstraction.
There's no such thing as becoming a contemplative without becoming a human being,
or without the whole of humanity somehow being transformed gradually.
There's been so much of that.
So we start out in the modern age, basically, with a Carmelite theology,
you know, a Carmelite spirituality,
which is wonderful, because nothing ever went higher,
but at the same time nothing was ever narrower.
Anselm Stolz, the Benedictine, has this book,
I've been looking at it lately, in this connection,
The Doctrine of Spiritual Perfection,
the whole thing is a crusade against the purely psychological vision of mysticism.
It's a book about mysticism, but he's trying to make it theological once again.
And the word theological sounds too academic,
but what he's trying to do is make it fill the whole thing,
rather than just this narrow peak.
Also thinking of just a few people as called to the mystical life,
everybody else sort of left outside.
There's a certain truth there, but boy, it's dangerous.
So you could almost say a real test for growth and contemplation
is looking at your own, entering into your own environment,
into your own humanity, and how you grow in your own humanity,
and then bringing that more fully into your contemplatory glory,
to that union with God,
that it doesn't exclude, but rather wants to incorporate even more and more fully.
That's right.
There are really two orientations you can have there,
because I think the gift of contemplation is gratuitous as anyway,
if we're talking about the higher contemplation.
So it just happens, and it may happen in a person that's very neurotic and so on,
and it doesn't immediately change that.
But you can take two orientations from that point.
You can either specialize in the contemplation, specialize in the experience,
and try at all costs to follow the road of that illumination, of that contemplation,
just ignore everything else.
And that's a dangerous one, because then the contemplation becomes an alternative to life,
and an alternative to humanity, a kind of better track, a kind of super highway.
Or you can say, this is given to me to transform my life,
to help me out of my imperfection, and so on.
So somehow I've got to knead it into the dough.
It's got to work itself into the hole in the soil.
And that's the healthy way.
Which tends to happen anyhow.
I mean, life tends to demand that.
There are certain situations in which you can get protected from that,
like in some contemplative communities, and then you can really be in a jam.
Because you get more and more tightened, you get more and more contracted,
trying to force yourself up into this tower of pure contemplation,
and you get sicker and sicker, in a sense.
Doesn't he sort of protect against that, though?
He seems to introduce the whole thought of abandonment.
Oh, Martin does very much.
But to me, he only seems to stick it in a couple of sentences there.
But he makes it that the whole thing pivots on that you have to give up yourself.
You have to enter into God's thought.
And so if you really did that, it's like, ask anything, it'll be given to you,
but it's according to what I want.
So you sort of put that twist on there.
And so it's only until you do it for the pure reason of seeking God,
then you would enter into your contemplation.
And a person has to be open to their environment, I think,
open to what's around them, okay?
Because if they try to figure it out, and they go with their head sort of
towards the goal, they're bound and close themselves to what's around them,
they're bound to get knotted up somehow, I think.
No, I think Martin is very sound on all of this.
Martin has a healthy attitude.
And he also is fighting the purely, what would you call it,
the narrow and abstract notion of contemplation
by giving such a rich treatment to this other,
this active contemplation or mediated contemplation.
But he doesn't have to fight the battle that Stoltz had to fight
back in, what, the 40s, 30s or 40s.
He starts out by saying in that book, he says,
if you enter into the area of mystical theology now,
you find it's a battlefield, and it's exactly what...
And so he's got to shoot all the way through against this other thing.
So the book gets boring for that reason,
because he keeps firing away at what he calls psychological contemplation.
Okay, then he has a section on the liturgy here,
which is fairly self-explanatory, I think.
And then returns to union with God and activity.
Now, this is another, all of these, you see,
are different angles on this active contemplation.
Now, here he's talking about a category of people, very largely.
And here you smell a little bit of the aroma of his earlier books.
The great majority of Christians will never become pure contemplatives on earth.
And, of course, that's true.
There's a little bit of the elitist thing here that you can't help but come through.
As if people outside the monastery are naturally kind of handicapped.
Then he talks about hidden contemplatives and masked contemplation.
Now, this is, what would you call it, a difficult area to go over,
because he's saying they don't know that they're contemplatives,
and at the same time they know that they're contemplatives, okay?
It's a hidden contemplation, but it's not that there isn't any awareness at all.
So it's tricky territory.
Here we speak of an awareness that is present but utterly unselfconscious.
Well, it is a kind of negative awareness, an unknowing,
as if one were continually pushing the awareness behind his back or something like that,
or avoiding making an issue of the awareness,
or avoiding trying to increase or make a business of some kind
out of the awareness of contemplation.
You do find something like that in the Desert Fathers, I think, for instance,
and a lot of the tradition of the saints.
One contemplates, so to speak, by forgetting that one is able to contemplate.
It sounds like a kind of mind game, but there is a reality there.
The life of contemplation and action and purity of heart
is then a life of great simplicity and inner liberty.
Now, the typical example of this, of course,
in the Cistercian monastery, in the Trappist monastery,
would have been the life of the lay brothers, the Conversi,
in the Trappist monastery, who had a different office
than the Latin choir office, and who spent all day working,
all day in manual labor, and often, probably, became deeper contemplatives
than the choir religious, who were priests
and often involved in intellectual things, or clerical things, and so on.
But he doesn't bring the example out. I think he has in other places.
Then, on page 52, he talks briefly about the battle
about acquired and infused contemplation.
Happily, he passes over it, without getting too involved in it.
The whole issue of what was supernatural, and what was infused, and what was mystical.
And then the other issue of what was Christian,
and what can non-Christians experience, became, I don't know, just deadly, that whole territory.
Reading Stoltz's book...
I don't know if this is going to be helpful, because I'm jumping ahead a little bit,
but reading Stoltz's book, I found out that there were three, sort of,
three different structures involved in contemplation.
I'm going to put contemplative.
Let's put mystic.
And the warfare goes on about the boundary lines between these areas.
So, Stoltz is defending a Christian baptismal gift of contemplation,
or call to contemplation, which is universal for Christians,
against an elitist sense of people who have the vocation of being mystics,
and are special kind of Christians.
And therefore, they have a special kind of contemplation,
distinguished by these special states, as he calls them, psychological states of prayer.
And those are the states of prayer, of course, that you find in the Carlin tradition,
and which were held to be the criteria of mystical progress.
So that you forget that it's in your baptism,
that it's there at the beginning, and that everybody's got it.
So, there's value here, there's an enormous danger here also,
in this tower of the special mystic vocation, of the special mystic states of soul.
So, he's defending this against that, but at the same time,
he's defending a Christian vocation, a Christian contemplative experience,
against the universal contemplative experience,
because he says, this is something that's in you invisibly through your baptism,
and you may not experience special psychological states, as he says,
but it's something different from what the non-Christian has.
So, he's defending this here, which also includes this,
against the universal, as well as the purely psychological.
Now, you can see that here's, say, a Carlinian position,
here's Stoltz's position of a good Benedictine theologian,
who was very influential in bringing the Fathers back in,
setting aside a little bit of scholasticism,
bringing the Fathers back into our education, who taught at San Anselmo.
And then you have the universal, and here's Merton,
who, when he begins to talk about contemplation,
gives the example of a Zen monk, remember?
A Chinese Zen monk.
So, at this point, at least we can see the three,
and we realize that each of these has its own claim,
and that our center of gravity somehow is here.
But we also share in this, that there's a truth here.
There is a universality.
I'm sorry, is this a hierarchical model?
Well, it tends to be.
In other words, everybody who's involved in these battles makes a hierarchy.
Yes, so I'm saying a Zen monk cannot share in mystic contemplation.
Well, that would be the theory of Stoltz,
would be that a Zen monk cannot share in the real,
the genuine, supernatural, mystical contemplation.
Whereas Merton would say, sure, you can.
And the Carmelite would say, don't even think about it.
In fact, most Christians are not experiencing what we're experiencing.
But on that model that you gave,
if somebody wants to pursue the path of contemplation,
don't they end up in a striving for the mystic level,
even though they don't negate that the Zen monk could pray?
Yes, sure.
Oh yeah, I mean, you end up trying to do that.
Sure, this is a matter of interpretation, okay?
A matter of making these political defense lines,
and then fighting over them, okay?
And if I wanted to draw it the way, what would you say, the way it really is,
I don't know if we could, but it would have to be a different picture.
And I think there are mystics in the Indian tradition
who have simply experienced a kind of complete union with God,
there's no way around it.
But their way is not our way.
But we can't put ourselves on a higher level than they are.
We don't understand that.
There are a lot of things we just don't know yet.
Or at that point the kind of hierarchical model just breaks down.
That's right, that's right.
That's right.
Now, this is the way, what would you call it,
this is the battlefield picture here.
It's not...
It doesn't attempt to be a picture of the way things really are.
In fact, it's a caricature at the top.
In other words, that tower there is especially, you know, not real.
Because what you do, I think, what happens in the mystical experience
is you sink deeper into the common thing, okay.
It's not a vertical, it's not a rising thing, it's a centering.
It's a descent into the center of the total body,
so that you're more one, you're more one with all of it
than all of them and anybody else is.
You get lost into the center of the thing.
Well, partly, wasn't that partly what we discovered in the Vedic literature too,
is that this whole idea of the ground being is also that which permeates all of reality.
That's right, that's right.
So when we turn the movement out and the movement in,
they're the same movement in a sense.
That's right, yeah.
And then Merton talks about natural contemplation and mystical theology,
which is just taking a different terminology now,
talking about the same two grades or levels or categories
and bringing back the ancient language,
which I see first in Evagrius actually,
of natural contemplation or Teoria Physicae, okay.
You see that expression on top of 53?
And Theologiae, theology.
Theology for Evagrius is the pure, full experience of God,
unitive experience, very different from what it means in our time, of course.
And he wants now to appropriate that tradition,
those two terms, that structure for what he's saying,
and place what he's saying on top of it,
which is pretty legitimate, I think.
He says he's reviving this classification.
The text from Evagrius, it's the Practikos, number one.
You know that Hamburger translation of Practikos in Chapters on Prayer?
It's on page 15 in that, right at the beginning of the Practikos.
This is the quote,
Christianity is the dogma of Christ our Savior.
You have to take dogma in a broad sense.
It is composed of three levels now.
Practikos, that's praxis, that's the active life, the ascetical life.
Secondly, of the contemplation of the physical world,
that's Teoria Physicae, or Martin's active contemplation.
And thirdly, of the contemplation of God, that is Theologiae,
or pure contemplation, or pure unitive experience,
or mystical theology, all of those terms.
So, three levels.
It's interesting that Practike is talked about as a knowledge too.
In other words, the active life is a kind of wisdom,
it's a level of knowledge, even though we think of it as a doing.
Okay, I've got a lot more stuff here,
but I think we'll probably just have to skip it and pass on.
There are some valid critiques of all of these levels, of course,
because the Christian mystery doesn't like ladders.
The Gospel doesn't like hierarchies.
The Gospel doesn't like category A, and product A and product B, and so on.
Because it's an explosion of unity, of the unitive.
And it's a question of how far you get it,
of how well you grasp, or allow yourself to be grasped,
by that unity that explodes in Christ.
It's not a question of becoming a better kind of human being,
or a higher kind of individual,
or even a deeper person, or something like that.
So, there's a kind of, what would you call it,
self-destructive thing in the growth, in the ascent,
in that the more one ascends, one descends.
And of course, that's the wisdom that Saint Benedict has in his rule,
where the ladder of humility, he says,
you go up by descending.
So, the ladder itself seems very clumsy,
but there's a very deep wisdom in the center of it.
There's a great article by Rahner,
in the third volume of Theological Investigations,
called Reflections on the Gradual Ascent to Perfection in Christianity.
It's a very powerful article,
where he talks about all the different grades, and ladders, and scales,
and schemes that have been made,
and more or less just sets them aside,
and says, what is it that we can call progress in Christian life?
And then he determines two sides to it.
He says, one side has always been ignored,
and that's the side of what happens to you.
In other words, not what's going on inside of you,
but what is it that confronts you, that you have to respond to?
He calls it the historical eschatological element,
or existential, I guess.
I don't think he uses that word now.
The other one he calls the existential deepening of acts.
He says, the way that you really grow is by being able to respond,
to act, or to live from a deeper and deeper center in yourself.
Now, this is parallel to what we've been saying from Merton.
That real progress is the existential deepening of acts.
I respond to this situation from a deeper center,
and therefore with more of myself than I was able to respond to the last situation.
Now, the situations which he might line up would be the situations
that typically happen to people in life.
The challenges of success, and of failure, and of loss, and of death.
Those things.
The existential deepening of acts.
And he says, what keeps us from doing this is what he calls concupiscencia.
The old word concupiscence.
But his meaning for concupiscence is much deeper and broader than what we usually mean by that.
Because usually we mean what?
Fleshly desire.
We mean desire, not want.
But what he means by concupiscence is the whole inertia of your being.
Everything that holds you down, or keeps you from being one,
and from being free, and therefore from responding from the center of yourself.
That's concupiscencia for him.
So that's what holds us back.
And the indication of our process, of our progress, is the deeper response.
It's really good.
And so that the scales become pretty irrelevant,
unless where you are, let us say, on the mystical scale,
is an expression of where you are on this scale of depth of response.
Which also can be a pretty mysterious thing.
Because he'll talk about the most superior lives often as being the most hidden lives.
And then there's the great Suzuki, of course.
Not DT Suzuki, or California Suzuki.
He says,
The goal of practice is always to keep our beginner's mind.
Our original mind concludes everything within itself.
It is always rich and sufficient within itself.
You should not lose your self-sufficient state of mind.
This does not mean a closed mind, but actually an empty mind, and a ready mind.
If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything.
It is open to everything.
In the beginner's mind, there are many possibilities.
In the expert's mind, there are few.
Now, I'm shooting a lot of that at you in a hurry, which is not quite fair.
But I'd encourage you to take the whole thing about grades and stages with a good deal of thought.
And read it in the light of the Gospel, that's the thing.
Notice how the Gospel flattens out the other hierarchies of the Old Testament.
The religious structures of Israel, and so on.
And notice the parable of the Pharisee and the public, and so on.
So, and yet at the same time, you know, we wouldn't be in the monastic life unless we
believed there was someplace to go, unless we believed there was a journey and a destination.
And that there were stages, and that there is progress, that there is growth.
So it's a mysterious thing that that's a banal enough conclusion.
Any questions before we quit?